restricted access 3. Revelation and Co-Revelation
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t h r e e R e v elation and C o - R e v elation If wonder leads to a sense that “something is asked of us,” revelation seeks to address the obvious next question: what, precisely, is asked of us? “The Bible,” Heschel writes, “is an answer to the supreme question: what does God demand of us? Yet the question has gone out of the world.”1 In a spiritually robust environment, in other words, the experience of wonder would elicit from humanity an openness to, indeed, an eagerness for the message of revelation. But our world, Heschel is at pains to insist, is anything but spiritually robust: in casting off its capacity for wonder, humanity has closed itself off from, and abandoned all interest in, God’s expectations. The Bible is thus rendered mute, irrelevant; it is an answer to a question long since silenced and forgotten. If, as I have suggested, the project of part I of God in Search of Man is to restore humanity to a wonder-­ filled response to the world as a whole, the project of part II is to accomplish something similar in regards to the Bible—to reactivate humanity’s appreciation for, and receptivity toward, God’s revelation. Put differently: whereas part I seeks to re-­ elicit an interest in “the supreme question,” part II seeks to inspire a commitment to the ultimateanswerasHeschelconceivesit—therevelationofGodasfound in the Hebrew Bible. In the modern world, Heschel laments, human thinking is dominated by a naturalism as impoverished as it is overconfident. If part I of GSM bemoaned humanity’s blindness to the wondrous allusiveness of all reality, part II in turn rues its deafness to the awe-­ inspiring message of the Bible. But Heschel’s ultimate purpose, it bears reiterating, is not castigation, but transformation. His goal is to stir the reader from 94 Revelation and Co-Revelation 95 his complacent naturalism, to remind him that another approach, profoundlyattunedtothewaysthatbothnatureandscripturepointbeyond themselves, is both possible and necessary. Indeed, Michael Morgan has astutely characterized Heschel’s approach in GSM as at least partly “therapeutic, aimed at reinvigorating Jewish life by diagnosing in detail thespiritualsicknessofmodernJudaismandthendetailingaregimenof revitalization.”2 ImightaddthatsomethingsimilarisatplayinpartIIIof GSM as well: rather than seeing the commandments as mere actions to be performed by rote (and thereby succumbing to the perils of what Heschel calls “religious behaviorism”), the reader is encouraged to discover the divine meaning hidden within them. Whether dealing with nature, with scripture, or with divinely sanctioned deeds, Heschel’s purpose is the same: to broaden humanity’s horizons, to elicit from it a capacity to lookandseemoredeeply,sothatconventional,secularizingperspectives may be overcome—so that, in other words, the transcendent may come into clearer view. * * * Modern thinkers resisted revelation, Heschel writes, because of “two diametrically opposed conceptions of man: one maintained that man was too great to be in need of divine guidance, and the other maintained that man was too small to be worthy of divine guidance.”3 The first approach , rooted in social science, celebrated humanity’s purported self-­ sufficiency, and thus labored under the illusion that technology could solve every problem. The sec­ ond approach, rooted in natural science, insisted, in contrast, that humanity is “insignificantly small . . . in relation to the universe” and thus found it “preposterous” to assume that the infinite and eternal would commune with “the feeble, finite mind of man.”4 Another version of this sec­ond approach stems not from humanity ’s cosmic insignificance, but from its lack of moral stature: how could a species capable of genocide be considered worthy of divine communication ? Given his powerful sense of modern man’s massive moral failings , Heschel feels no small degree of sympathy with this question: “If man can remain callous to the horror of exterminating millions of men, women, and children; if man can be bloodstained and self-­ righteous, distort what his conscience tells, make soap of human flesh, then how 96 Abraham Joshua Heschel can we assume that he is worthy of being apprehended and guided by the infinite God?”5 But over time, Heschel avers, it has become harder to dismiss the possibility of revelation on any of these grounds. The illusion of human self-­ sufficiency has been exposed as precisely that; the fantasy was no less false for being so widely accepted. Indeed, Heschel writes, “We have finally discovered what prophets and saints have always known: bread and power alone will not save humanity.” The only thing that can stanch humanity’s impulses toward violence and malice is...


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